For many people, Sevilla (or Seville for those English purists, but I’m calling it by its proper name) is the city they think of when they think of things that are typically Spanish. Full of Andaluz flair, passion and heat, Sevilla is Spain’s fourth largest city (after Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia) at around 800,000 people. Flamenco was presumably born here (although the people of Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz feel differently and insist flamenco was born there). There is something enchanting about the streets where at any moment you could come across flamenco or a gitano (gypsy), the city of the Guadalquiver, the only river port of Spain (80 km or 50 miles from the Atlantic), the city that bakes in the summer with temperatures averaging above 40ºC/104ºF. While I personally feel Granada and Córdoba (Sevilla’s rivals) have more to offer, Sevilla sparks the souls (alma in Spanish) of many people. Most of Spain will joke “Sevilla, mi arma” due to the Andaluz dialect of Spanish, which the Sevillanos have even a harder to understand version with ceseo and seseo and cutting off most consonantes when they speak.
During the years of Franco, most of what was presented to the public at large was Andalucía. Sevilla is the capital of Andalucía. When many outsiders of Spain visit the country, they expect long, hot days, flamenco music, toreros (matadores/bullfighters), fiesta and siesta. This is due to the use of the Andalucía lifestyle to market Spain as Different. I think some Spanish still resent this marketing strategy nearly 40 years after his date. Who wants the world to think they’re lazy? And it’s not that the andaluces are lazy. They have created some of the most brilliant writers and artists (Antonio Machado, Federico García Lorca and Pablo Picasso are just a few of the men who hail from Andalucía.) There’s a time for work, and there’s a time for play. In Andalucía, there’s always time for a cup of coffee with someone. This can be seen in Sevilla’s many bars and cafés, overflowing with people every night. And yes, the shops will close down for three hours between 2 and 5. While most of the biggest cities in Spain are losing any concept of the siesta due to tourists (a country should NEVER lose itself and cater to tourists no matter what country it is), the siesta is alive and well in Spain. After all, who wants to be out and about in 40ºC heat?
However, it took me three visits in Sevilla to find anything even closely resembling heat. My first journey to Sevilla was during my study abroad semester in Toledo in 2003. I had a friend studying in Sevilla, so I caught the AVE from Madrid to Sevilla and was there in about 2 hours. It was November, and I was greeted with a downpour. It rained the entire weekend I was there. I was also fighting a cold, and the rain did not help matters much. I didn’t let that deter me. I was only 21, and a little bit of rain was not going to keep me from seeing the Alcázar. This was the time Lorenzo Alcazar was providing alternatives to mobsters shooting wives in the head during labour on General Hospital, so I had to see this fortress, which today remains my favourite thing about Sevilla.
Sevilla was one of the last places I returned to on account of this. When I was toying with my second novel taking place in Sevilla, I went back to visit in February 2012. It’d be a good escape from Madrid, right? Wrong. It was the coldest weekend in 50 years in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. The pensión I was staying in didn’t have heating. The streets were empty, like a ghost town. Sevilla was just not equipped for cold weather. I returned to Madrid with my fourth case of farangitis (throat infection) of the school year.
I gave Sevilla a third chance on my way back from the Portuguese Algarve and Huelva in 2013. I’m glad I did, as this is the memory that stays with me. It was a pleasant upper 20ºs C in May, and the city was finally bursting at the seams with life and energy.
Sevilla is most definitely the heart of Andalucía, even if I will forever prefer Córdoba and Granada. Many people say Sevilla is the best of the province and are hard pressed to tell me “un pueblo con encanto” (a charming village) to visit, so I’m going to focus on sites in the city. If anyone has any meravelles from the rest of the province, by all means let me know! Also, apologies for not having better photos. I remember now my camera was broken during the 2012 trip, the 2013 trip was rushed, and 2003 was all film, not digital. (What’s film?) I’ll do what I can!
The Alcázar of Sevilla is much more beautiful than this picture shows. The Alcázar is the oldest royal palace still in use in Spain, and it is one of the most beautiful with spectacular gardens. It’s located next to the Cathedral and was developed from the old Moorish palace. Construction began in 1181 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I loved running around here in the rain in 2003, but 9 years later, I wasn’t feeling paying the hefty entry price (probably around 12€). I’m so Catalán with money!
2. Plaza de España
Located in the Parque de Santa María, the Plaza de España was designed by Aníbal González for the 1929 Exposición Ibero-América. I thought I had seen anything Sevilla had to offer, but I had missed this beauty. It was my first stop on that brief 2013 trip. And it turned out to be a fave. Each one of the 50 provinces of Spain is represented with its own alcove. I immediately looked for my Spanish home Valencia and the province I had just discovered I was moving to two days before, Vizcaya. I was living in Madrid at the time and totally ignored it. It’s a crazy mix of styles that somehow works.
3. La Giralda y Catedral de Santa María de la Sede
The Cathedral of Sevilla is the largest Gothic and third-largest cathedral in the entire world. The Catholics went BIG when they designed this beauty. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Cathedral and it’s towering Giralda is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain.The Giralda comes from the old mosque but was conserved and is named for the weathervane on the top that turns (girar in Spanish). Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón) was buried here.
I have fond memories of reading about this mighty river in my uni Medieval and Early Modern Spanish literature course. The Guadalquivir is the fifth largest in the peninsula at 657 kilometres long (394,2 miles) and starts in Jaén before ending in the Atlantic Ocean in Cádiz. The river plays an important part in Sevilla’s history.
Flamenco is the so-called traditional music of Spain. It plays an important part of the history and culture of Sevilla and grew out of the streets of the gitanos (gypsies). It was first mentioned in literature in 1774 but was around well before that. Dancing, guitar and the applause Lady Gaga would kill for making up this popular genre. Fun trivia fact: In Spanish, flamenco also means flame-coloured, flamingo or the name for the Flemish.
6. Torre de Oro
Built in the 13th Century, the “Golden Tower” is a watchtower on the Guadalquivir. It also served as a prison in the Middle Ages.It was nearly demolished after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, but the Sevillanos persisted in their complaints and the king at the time stopped the full demolition. It was rebuilt, and in 1992, made a sister tower of that awesome Torre de Belem in Portugal. It is now a museum.
7. Barrios de Triana y Macarena
I’m not sure this is the neighbourhood, but is a great example of the streets in general of Sevilla. These two neighbourhoods are where you can find the real Sevilla, away from the Cathedral and Alcázar. The Triana is one of the most famous barrios in all of Spain on the other side of the Guadalquivir. Both are well worth the time to spend a while absorbing la vida sevillana.